The inscription on the first page should be fair warning to anyone bold enough to take on House of Leaves. This is such a crazy story that no book review could ever do it justice; I only hope, brave readers, that this review entices you to delve into the chilling mystery that surrounds the house on Ash Tree Lane.
This is a complex story. Mark Z. Danielewski deserves the credit for creating this masterpiece, but forget the fact that he’s the true author for a moment. House of Leaves is written by Zampanò, a deceased blind guy who had an obsession with a fake documentary, titled The Navidson Record, about a house in rural Virginia. Zampanò died before he could ever finish his novel though. (I use the term novel loosely, since Zampanò clearly believed he was creating a criticism of a documentary and didn’t see his piece as a work of fiction.) A twenty-something tattoo shop apprentice happens upon Zampanò’s manuscript after his death. Johnny Truant is everything his name and profession suggests: lazy, self-indulging and neglectful of all responsibility. He, in turn, becomes obsessed with the manuscript and discovering if anything about The Navidson Record is true. The book you will hold in your hands when you embark on a journey which will not conclude with the final page, was written by Zampanò with an introduction and extensive notes by Mr. Truant as well as clarifications by the editor(s).
The book is full of twists in turns, both in terms of plot and physical layout. This is experimental fiction. You will turn the book upside down and sideways, turning pages faster and faster as the words race across the pages. You may find yourself puzzling over a footnote toward the end of the book that takes you back to the beginning. Strange symbols and markings will appear on the pages, taunting you, asking you to find a deeper meaning, which may or may not exist. This is satire. It may read like an essay or a research paper at times. Real literary criticisms will emerge. Mathematical formulas and scientific theories may attempt to prove or disprove The Navidson Record.
This book is also chilling. It is unsettling. It is not outright scary; there are no physical monsters that will jump out at you. But, when you least expect it, when you don’t even realize it, you’ll find yourself thinking about this book. Thinking about the closet. The hallway. The grand staircase. And goosebumps will rise on your skin. You may feel as if something is watching you, stalking you. It will never appear, but the very possibility that it could will induce a sheer terror, sure to cause even the most stoic to question reality.
It is no easy feat to experience House of Leaves. The book is 530 pages before appendices, exhibits and an index. There are references all over the place, some obvious, some obscure. There is a discussion forum dedicated to the novel. People have spent hours combing through the tome, discovering, speculating and imagining. It’s not a bad idea to have a device that can access Wikipedia in close proximity while reading House of Leaves. You may be astonished by some of the connections you will find.
People have claimed to have lost sleep over this book, that it has changed their lives. It’s hard to truly say what this book is about. Because, honestly, the story shouldn’t take too long to tell. A nice family moves to the country, looking to relax and enjoy life. One thing stops them from this idyllic dream though: their house is bigger on the inside than the outside and trying to find out why will drive them insane and rip them apart. However, House of Leaves does so much more than tell the story of the Navidson family. If it were a sentient being, it would be schizophrenic.
If what I have written so far isn’t enough to convince you to read this book, then I don’t know what will. Please, read at your own risk and understand that you may find your life changed by it.